/ Travel & Leisure

Ever felt pressured into booking a hotel room?

Have you ever rushed into booking a hotel because there was only ‘one room left’? We’ve discovered that these claims on Booking.com don’t ring true – and could even be in breach of consumer law.

It’s a predicament I know I’ve found myself in. With a holiday on the horizon, I have a look on Booking.com to see what’s available.

After scrolling through dozens of listings, my eyes settle on the perfect hotel. It’s characterful, close to the centre and – best of all – the price is a steal!

Then I spy a little red prompt that strikes fear into my heart: ‘Only 1 room left on our site’.

I’d only intended to browse, but suddenly I’m snatching up my wallet. There’s a sense of urgency as I type in my credit card details.

I’d planned to check a few other sites and get the nod from my travel buddy – but there isn’t a moment to waste!

I can’t risk this last remaining room being snatched from my grasp. It’s only after I click ‘pay now’ that I notice Booking.com has five other rooms at the same hotel. They’re all available for my dates and almost identical to the one I’ve just booked.

It wasn’t the last room after all. In fact, I had plenty of time to shop around and think about my decision. I feel cheated.

Pressure selling

It’s my job to know how companies exploit us to make a sale, and yet I still get caught out. Along with prompts telling us a property is ‘in high demand’ or ‘X people are looking’, this is pressure selling.

Here, the scarcity principle is at work: a psychological rule recognising that people attach value to things that are few in number, or likely to sell out soon.

It creates a sense of panic in the buyer and capitalises on our fear of missing out.

Enforcement action

It’s for this reason that government watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) ordered booking sites to clean up their act earlier this year.

Companies were given until 1 September to phase out dodgy practices which could stop holidaymakers finding the best deal and potentially break consumer law.

The rules were clear: along with not giving a false impression of room availability, discounts had to be genuine, with the full cost of a hotel room – including city taxes and resort fees – displayed upfront.

The CMA also called for greater transparency about the role commission plays in how properties are ranked.

Booking.com along with Expedia, Agoda, Hotels.com, ebookers and Trivago all formally committed to make these changes.

It sent a ripple of reform through the industry, with TripAdvisor, Airbnb and Google following suit.

Misleading claims

So I was as surprised as anyone to notice Booking.com was still up to its old tricks, even after the deadline passed.

During our spot check, we found that its ‘1 room left’ prompts were inaccurate a whopping five out of 10 times.

The CMA has promised to take stronger action if its finds that sites are breaking consumer law. In the meantime, it’s best not to be too hasty.

Booking.com’s statement on the CMA enforcement action

At Booking.com we work continuously to bring transparency, choice and value to travelers, continually testing and improving the way in which we present our services online.

As part of our continuous efforts to optimise the customer experience and transparency of our platform, we committed to implement new ways to surface information to consumers about the factors that affect the search rankings on Booking.com, how we determine price comparisons, and the data that supports messages about the availability and popularity of specific properties, among other features relevant to the customer booking experience.

We have worked hard to implement the commitments agreed with the CMA and maintain ongoing collaboration to inform continued enhancement of the consumer experience.

What do you think?

Have you ever felt rushed by a scarcity claim? Or perhaps you’ve been offered a better deal – or more availability – by contacting the hotel direct?

Whatever your experience, we want to hear from you.


No. I have been targeted and have disbelieved what they’ve said. So far my bookings have been successful, though my last, last Christmas was an unwise choice which wasn’t clear from Booking.com when I made it. Certainly the score was inflated and that did influence my booking, though only partly. Booking.com is useful to find what is available and to visit the web site of the accommodation itself. Booking.com’s price could also be a useful piece of information when booking directly with the chosen people. I note the bad press recently and believe all such booking sites can be used to inform and find places easily. Maybe that’s all they are good for.

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We have done a few road trips in the US and Europe where we rarely book hotels in advance.

After a lot of clicking of the keyboard, nearly every hotel says ‘We have just one room left’.

We always ask to see the room before accepting what is being offered because as walk-ins asking for one night and unlikely to return, they try to off-load their worst rooms that are usually pokey or noisy.

So we play the game, return to reception and say we don’t like it and do they have anything else. After a lot more clicking of the keyboard they find “another last room”….. Eventually we usually get offered a decent room.

We once ended up with a 3-room suite with a gorgeous view for the same price as the noisy standard room that was first offered. Hotel car parks are a good indication of how busy they are.

Thanks for the tips.

You’re welcome.

In the US, it is always worth picking up free local magazines that can be found at petrol stations or supermarkets. They are full of discount vouchers many of which will be for local hotels.

Flossie B says:
4 October 2019

The booking sites usually say ” We have only one room left ON THIS SITE”. Which I have always taken to mean that the booking agency has an allocation of rooms of which only one is left – so I then go directly to the hotel which usually has rooms available

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Absolutely; going direct to the hotel is always the best bet.

Linda says:
4 October 2019

Yesterday I booked a hotel room close to a minor Italian airport via booking.com. The price was quoted in sterling yet my bank account has been debited with exchange rate fees and a slightly inflated amount to the one I was quoted. I even got the ‘last room available’.

Kevin Chesson says:
4 October 2019

Within the last few days I placed a hotel booking through Booking.com and guess what, there was just one room left!! It is wrong and is obviously continuing.

I never book with places like Booking.com. I use them to research options, then call the hotel directly or go to their website. It’s always the same price or cheaper than the third party. Adding a third party only complicates things if something goes pear shaped.

Andrea Jepson says:
4 October 2019

Last year I was taken ill after booking lots of hotels for a fly drive holiday. At the click of a button I was able to cancel all my bookings. Wonderful!

This year, I was told there was a shortage of rooms in a mountain village only to find that we were the only customers in the hotel.

You win some, you lose some!

Mike says:
4 October 2019

Booking.com aren’t the only website giving false information on their website. I booked a hotel B and B in Devon with Hotels.com this summer only to find I had been allocated a completely different room from the one I had reserved. I booked a superior en-suite with sea view only to be given a pokey little room at the back. Hotels .com did apologise immediately and gave me £60 credit which I used when moving to a different B and B. I was fortunate to find an alternative place to stay in the area we wanted but it was in a less desirable establishment. As the check-in wasn’t until after 4pm, then arguments with awkward owners and contact with booking.com we didn’t manage to get sorted until gone 6pm. In the end it turned out to be a bit of a panic booking as we were also told it was the last room available. This of course was another lie as there were several empty rooms.

we had a different room from what we booked and the owner argued we had booked this other one with a shower when we wanted a bath even if not in the room as with long driving I need a good soak to ease my back. But seeing the owner had put another in the room we booked that was it. But then we found no cups, no tea bags, then no something else about 5 items that should be in this farm house room and having to go back down and look for someone to give us the items, finally neither bed side light working, one may blown bulb but two says never checked or complained about when one went,and owner coming to the room to make sure we were not just being a pain and finding it was yet another real complaint. We put it down to her being more into looking after her horses than her guests and part fault of the Booking. com with room issue. Oh we had to share a little bottle of liquid soap between us too for shower and sink use, all being done on the cheap. Lesson learned, avoid horsey places, it is not the first of needing the money but not the guest. So sad as one likes to think a farm would be a great place. Oh and check if it says organic farm that it means you as a guest get organic foods too rather than cheap as cheap stuff. Again same sort of set up. one place got into a panic as they booked in another couple as wanting 2 night stays and our one night stay which I informed her was us coming homewards but we did not at the time have a mobile phone so we would be arriving for sure. so when we get there it was panic as no room for us and she had to ask a friend to put us up. We think she was greedy to get the two night money. Pleased to say we have also had some brilliant places too. Try to read trip advisor now for many places and never book both journeys in same place to play safe.

4 October 2019

First thing to remember you can always walk away. I regard sites that indicate few places are left or selling like hot cakes/ terms and conditions apply (after having waved a flag indicating a very attractive deal ) as sites to avoid; what is the point of checking out an offer that is nearly sold out when the advertiser indicates that by the time you have checked it out anyway ! It is noteworthy that some owner always keep some rooms back from the agencies like the one you mention. Always select the hotel you want and then check it out on at least 4 agency sites even if they say no rooms left. Even if they say that a direct approach to the seller will often rooms are available where you have selected even if you have to pay a little more. Never be intimidated by the tactics indicated at the front of this article.

Touch wood I’ve used Booking.com quite a lot and never had any issues at all – despite concerns that rooms are more often reserved than booked. I am rather surprised that Which feels it needs to highlight ‘pressure selling’ tactics in any case: surely nobody actually believes these pop ups do they??? Even if they are accurate, the whole point of these sites is that you access dozens if not hundreds of options in one go: why would anyone feel pressured when you can just go onto your next best option?

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Laurence: Which? is only taking the line they are with Booking.com because of numerous problems people are encountering. Booking.com’s model is highly competitive; they want to be the only player in the booking field but to achieve this they’re employing some truly worrying tactics.

I have close knowledge of this as we have family involved in the hotel trade as management, and good friends who run B and Bs. To a person they condemn booking.com for a wide variety of things, including changing the prices the hotels post to attract more people.

But one thing is certain: you will always get a better deal from a hotel if you book directly.

I do not condone Booking.com’s [and others’] pressure-selling sharp practices, but booking accommodation is a bit more complicated than might at first appear. If someone wants to book four consecutive nights starting on a Wednesday there might genuinely only be one room available although most large establishments would be able to juggle shorter bookings to find the rooms required. No hotel operator would willingly forego a booking they could accommodate so I think these tactics are counter productive and not in the interests of either the customer or the operator. The parasitic booking sites’ only interest is in attracting as many bookings as they can regardless of the effect on the trade generally so I support the idea of using the sites to identify the hotels you would like to stay in but call them direct to make the booking [although some use an agency for that purpose that has no real knowledge of the establishment so it’s not foolproof].

on busy routes like we found trying to get a one night stay can be a pain as they want 2 nighters, mainly in the south counties. This was going direct with the owners, but then I started to use the likes of B.com and there is still that element of we must make sure we get a place so the sites know this fear that people worry they may not be able to find somewhere to over night and in an area they are not familiar with. I did think the shortages of rooms was because these booking sites were being allocated them maybe one each and once booked that was it. So was not really gullible at the time. Thankfully I am a lot wiser now and loads go into all the planning but we still find some right dumps, like well known pub type owned hotel group. pretty old picture and room description, but on arrival Very run down hotel part. and us thinking wished we realised a travel lodge was near by too as looked so much better.

In a similar vein I have often wondered what purpose is served by the comment that appears on selling websites these days to the effect that “33 people are currently looking at this product”. What? Compost, at three o’clock on a Wednesday morning? With hotels it is actually a turn-off and I would prefer to go somewhere quieter. The funny thing is that the same number are still looking for the same booking three hours later.

Just pressure-selling to prod you to get in before those other “33 people”. There was a time when auditors would have stopped companies doing this sort of thing.

Chompy says:
9 October 2019

I’ve seen the pressure, but not fallen for it, working on the the reverse of it seems to good to be true (i.e., if it’s too bad to be true it probably isn’t). Also, these tactics deter me from using these sites (concert ticket resale sites also seem to do the same by showing you rapidly increasing ticket prices) and I just use them for information.

It was very useful to read this. I travel a lot and use the services provided by Trivago, Booking.com and the rest. I have certainly been influenced to book early because of the claim “only one room left” etc. If I see this again, I will not use them.